June 26 last year, the Day of Support for Victims of Torture, artist and activist Katrin Nenasheva on her Facebook page told how she had been subjected to real torture on the territory of the DPR a month before - and the reaction to the post turned out to be very different, from support to rejection and outright cruelty. Almost immediately, the project "Cargo 300" was born, from the formats of indoor and street performances that grew into a large-scale immersive action. On March 31st, the research play goes to St. Petersburg, and the next Moscow shows are expected. We talked with the creators and conceptualizers of the project Sasha Starost, Katrin Nenasheva, Polina Andreevna and Olesya Gudkova about the experience of violence, the uniting power of traumatic experience and freedom in joint creativity.
Experience of violence
Katrin Nenasheva: In May last year I went to Donetsk, to Horlivka - from there part of my family. It was exactly what a family trip, but it is obvious that the local special services were thinking a little differently. In general, my friend and I were detained for identification purposes, and after that they were taken to some cellars, handcuffed and bags on our heads, and beaten. All night they tried to knock out testimony from us that we were allegedly preparing some kind of action on the territory of the DPR. For me, this was the first experience of violence as such, psychological and physical. Before that, the word "torture" was not in my vocabulary, but then my friend and I began to realize what had happened, considered the beatings and realized that it was quite appropriate in this situation.
And then I started to have a real post-traumatic stress disorder, in the first month after the violence occurred, my psyche behaved in a rather difficult way. There was a persecution mania and derealization, a great fear of the future. I began to read a lot about how people get PTSD. In particular, I came across an idea that we later put into the play: a person who commits violence can also be in post-traumatic stress for various reasons. Therefore, it is important not to demonize people who commit violence, but to somehow talk to them. At the same time, I did what is called a come-out, talked about this experience. And I faced a big wave of depreciation - this, unfortunately, is a standard practice for a part of society. When people talk about violent experiences, it is very often devalued. Of course, at that time it exacerbated my PTSD.
Sasha Old Age: I myself have been abused in acute wards of psychiatric hospitals. I had two involuntary hospitalizations, and this is a separate topic: how everything is organized there is nothing more than institutional violence. Of course, you know that at least you won't be killed there. But the feeling of limited free will and the lack of control of the body, the confidence that you can be undressed at any time, touched as you like, and generally treat you as carelessly as you like is also a traumatic experience. Especially considering that people are brought to acute wards when they are in the most serious condition, it is easy to understand that all this atmosphere does not contribute to recovery in any way.
Katya's story scared me a lot. Nothing like this had ever happened to my loved ones, and Katya at that time was already my friend. I perfectly remember the day when I found out what happened, I remember the feeling that I could not help with anything and did not even know where she was - I had no opportunity to contact her. It was very scary. PTSD can affect people around those who are experiencing it, and I felt anxious too. I did not understand what she was connected with, I did not know the details of the detention, and no one knew either.
It was just unpleasant for me to be and exist in the city. A silly childish thought was spinning in my head that I continued to go to a cafe and drink coffee, and somewhere there they were torturing my friend. How to live after that and pretend that nothing is happening? When this receded a little, I wanted, firstly, to somehow help Katya.
Catherine: I realized that I could be saved by real stories of people who experienced institutional violence and on whom it left a big mark. It was important for me to find out how people experienced this, how their sense of themselves and their own body changed. Unfortunately, neither in art, nor in the media, I have not found such living stories, so I began to collect them myself, contacted several public organizations, went to people in other cities - to Yaroslavl, for example. I also wanted to show portraits of people who have gone through such an experience so that the viewers of the exhibition and subscribers in social networks outside the art get-together cease to be afraid of this topic. Many after starting this conversation withdrew from the relationship with me. “Cargo 300” is a story that traumas remain with people and with them you need to learn to live on and others who are not directly affected by torture or institutional violence. It is foolish to reject it, how to reject, for example, former prisoners and people with mental disorders - they are all nearby. The more systemic violence occurs, the more such invisible people are next to us.
Olesya Gudkova: For me, the most frightening thing about the topic of violence is that it almost always happens behind closed doors, no one sees it, except for those who commit it and over whom it is committed. And the second frightening thing is the public reaction, showing that people do not want to hear such stories and believe in them, do not want to be told and shown "inconvenient information." Take Katina's story, for example. I remember when last year she shared her experience on social networks, in the comments people, along with words of support, wrote that it was worth checking her on a lie detector, that it was fantastic, that bruises were somehow not enough and in general she was a shitty artist, a terrible woman and f **** shka putinskaya.
I don't know what impressed me more - Katya's story or people's reaction. Perhaps this is my main impulse to participate in the project: the desire to tell stories that almost no one in Russia wants to tell. These stories may trigger, they may not like them, they may be out of place and out of place, but they should be. In this sense, Cargo 300 is a desperately honest project. We not only tell people a story, but also invite our viewers to construct their own within the framework of the game. Violence has also taken place in my life, and, unfortunately, not the last.
"Cargo 300" and invisibility
Catherine: After the cancellation of the exhibition at the Solyanka gallery, the only opportunity to continue speaking was a street action, in which Sasha also participated. Inside a cage covered with polyethylene, I was in different places, first in Moscow, then in other cities. This frozen body with parts sticking out of the cellular metal personified, in my opinion, the story of invisibility. Torture and violence are mostly invisible, and this makes the trauma deeper: a person is trying to recover, but it is very painful and scary due to the fact that at the moment of violence, when it was hard, bad and scary, no one saw him and could not help. Any violence affects a person's identity, and artistic too. When they put the barrel to your temple and shout: "Well, are you going to do your damn actions now or not?" - it is very difficult to find a language for expression and generally go out into the street. You know that there is nowhere to wait for help.
After that, I realized that the topic we started to deal with was uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, but very important. Therefore, we again teamed up with Sasha and Stas and made the first private screening of the performance.The first screening took place in the Zverev Center and was accompanied by threats, a policeman even came to us, filmed everything on video, passed it on to his colleagues. Soon Polina joined us as a performer and conceptualizer. And we realized that it would be great to make a series, try to tell the accumulated human stories, and also experiment with the theatrical format within the framework of social art. This is how the second show happened, which we had been preparing for several months.
Sasha: I joined Catherine in the summer, quite spontaneously, when we were preparing "Psychhorfest" in St. Petersburg. Katya mentioned that if I'm interested, I can start writing music for the project. At that moment I started playing with Stas Gorev and invited him to take part in this. Then we thought that we would have an exhibition in Solyanka, we recorded a great soundtrack. We had plans for performances that could be done around music, but, unfortunately, none of this happened due to the canceled exhibition. At the same time, I observed Katya on trips to Dagestan, when she interviewed Ruslan Suleimanov (one of the former prisoners of Omsk IK-7, who spoke about extremely cruel torture. - Approx. ed.). We then lived together in St. Petersburg, and all this happened before my eyes
In "Cargo 300" I am not speaking on behalf of a victim of violence. I had problems with aggression - yes, it was local, and I didn't have any power, but I used to be the one who is called an abuser. It is important for me that I act out the story of a person in whom the trauma produced such a state where the only possible interaction with the world occurs through violence. When we talk about violence, be it systemic state violence or private, family, domestic violence, we need to understand the mechanisms of the person who creates the first impulse in this chain. But we are not talking about justifying all the rapists and starting to feel sorry for them. We need to understand how it works.
Polina Andreevna: When I joined this project, we already knew Sasha and Katya from work at Psychoactive. We were not close friends, therefore, when this story just happened to Katya, I did not find out about it right away. We continued to communicate on some working issues both before and after. It was not obvious to me that she was in some kind of altered state, that she felt bad. And then I read the material on the BBC and of course I was shocked. But most of all I was struck by the reaction of Catherine herself when she described what has already been said - that our reflection should concern not only helping the victim, but also the behavior of the rapist. I was impressed and wrote Katrin a letter with words of admiration and support, and then I got to the very first show of "Cargo 300". There was a performative part, which includes the participation of the viewer - it seemed to me that I could help the project in this. I have theatrical experience, I was engaged in physical theater, danced under the direction of Zhenya Chetvertkova (contemporary dancer, choreographer PoemaTheatre. - Approx. ed.) for several years, and it was clear to me what I could offer. We met and started working together
On my own behalf, I talk about domestic violence in this project. For some reason, people tend to think that domestic violence and torture are far from each other, but in reality they are not. Unfortunately, I got to know this. And maybe, fortunately, because now I can tell about it and try to speak as loudly as I can. My character talks about the invisibility of a victim of violence, not just family violence. About the isolation in which a person is subjected to any kind of aggression.
Olesya: I got to know the Gruza team after Katya's exhibition was canceled in the gallery at Solyanka. I was asked to help at one of the meetings, and I saw how deeply the project participants are ready to immerse themselves in the topic with which they are working, conducting real research, while paying considerable attention to reflecting on each other.Then it seemed to me that this is a very professional team that knows why it does what it does.
My participation in the project happened somehow by itself. At some point, I realized that I no longer say: "I help with the Cargo", but I say: "We are doing the Cargo." In the play, my role is the role of the presenter, who first guides the audience around Ruslan's world, and then invites them to play a "game". As for the team, we actually have two psychologists, me and Artyom Materinsky, but after a long time of close interaction in the team, we all have already become “psychologists” in the everyday sense of the word, so everyone takes care of the hygiene of communication. Of course, we have quarrels, divergences of creative views, clarification of relationships, but these are work processes, they also sometimes fail. But later they can be debugged much more delicately.
Talking about the ineffable
Sasha Old Age: There is one very important point in the conversation about torture. When it comes to people with some kind of media power, or representatives of a certain social group with whom readers of conventional Russian social media can relate themselves - for example, the Network case - people talk about this a lot, but it is important to go further.
We have the story of Ruslan Suleimanov, this is an ordinary man from Dagestan who really broke the law. He is not an activist, a representative of a completely different social stratum. And such people are constantly used in the media as pawns who simply embody some kind of case. They have no subjectivity, and they are very quickly forgotten. Nobody wants to relate to them - this is such a double stigma.
Torture is a "unfashionable" topic, it is as unpleasant as possible, demonstrating that there are spaces in the country where there is no law, where you cannot defend yourself. These are not questions of power and subordination, not a question of media weight. It's just that these are lacunae of lawlessness, within the framework of which you cannot do anything at all. Our hero is, as they say, a criminal, he was in prison not for political convictions. And here we need to equalize all cases. Because either we talk about violence, or we don't talk about it, or it's a problem, or it's not a problem. We cannot single out people who belong to our pleasant community, and use the rest only as objects. Therefore, we wanted Ruslan to be present in the performance as much as it is ethical and possible.
Catherine: Why didn't we stop at one show or promotion? We work in the format of a laboratory group, test different practices on ourselves, invite different people to participate in performative actions, and our task is to learn, to seek. The topic is difficult to express, and many turn away from it. But this very silence in the future creates the basis for collective trauma: further it will be more painful to turn back and look in front of you. "Cargo 300" was created not only for its participants, we want to talk about violence with viewers, subscribers, and casual passers-by so that it is not so scary. So that each of the people who have heard about torture and systemic violence does not form this common fear. We must talk about cruelty, and we must talk to it.
Pauline: I really do not like formalities and never do something that does not affect me personally. This applies not only to the "Cargo 300", but also to any form of action. I believe that my activism does not have to be loud: when I talk to several people who are not particularly knowledgeable about a topic, but give them enough food for thought, after which they may change their minds, this is after all, too, activism. We are often asked the question: "Why are you doing this, what is your goal?" But the answer to it seems intimate to me, I have a goal, but it is my personal one.
When I am asked why I am so worried about social issues, I answer: "Because society is me and all social problems concern me personally."I am scared to think that violence is the norm, because many times I have been a person who cannot resist it. You have to witness the cruelty and just leave in silence. But now, thanks to this project, I have a voice. I can say that this happens, and very often, on every corner, in your house, under your nose, behind the next door. And this is a personal matter for everyone.
Catherine: The theme of experiencing some kind of trauma of violence turned out to be a fertile ground for uniting people in activism and creativity. For me personally, "Cargo 300" is all the same, in some way, socialization after the experience. When PTSD began, in the most acute period, I received little support from loved ones, and I have to make up for this lack of security primarily with creative projects. Everything arising from the theme of violence - devaluation, the inability to achieve some kind of justice and even revenge - all this unites people. It all started with the experience of realizing that it was possible to live on, and moved on to talking about it and making sense of the experience. It’s rather unsurprising for me that such a “medical history” can bring very different people together.
Sasha: It seems to me that violence and relationships that involve aggressive interaction are a trait of the human community in general. This is what we just have. And despite the fact that today we live in a structurally civilized society, episodes of violence occur in one way or another. Even where human rights are respected more than in modern Russia. People have a natural interest in what violence is. Many, and we in particular, try to get to know him in such a playful way, through a creative experience. Therefore, we do not forget that the viewer is also a participant in the project. Everyone who comes to us has the opportunity to simply show curiosity and grope for their own boundaries.
It so happened that in the process of working on "Cargo 300" people gathered who complement each other very well. We have nowhere to push our elbows, there is no competition for zones of influence - everyone has their own strengths.
Pauline: We have a high degree of creative activity, because there is a lot of freedom in our work. In theory, we are doing a performance about torture, but no one forbids me to talk about a close, but different experience. We are all ready to accept any idea of another participant and consider it.
Catherine: In "Cargo 300" you can try on several experiences: a person who commits violence, a person who is being abused, or just watch what is happening. We create artificial conditions through which you can look back at your everyday life and think if there are codependent relationships in your life, can you get out of them, what to do with it next. So this is not only a social project, but also therapeutic to some extent.
Sasha: This is a study of the choices we make in relation to violence and aggression, and this, as I said, is a very natural thing - the viewer does not need any background and knowledge of the topic to understand what is happening. Another question is that the performance can really be a trigger for someone, it is not very easy to participate in it.
Catherine: But we want to note that a psychologist is working within the framework of the performance. We have a room where people can go and talk to him. There is a separate interaction: those who come to this room also unite, communicate, support each other. After showing at the discussion, we once again invite people to use the free help of our psychologist, work out the experience and understand how valuable it is to you. We take care of those who come to us.
Olesya: Cargo 300 is primarily a study. Research into how violence appears, how it functions and whether it is possible to stop it.
PHOTOS: Katrin Nenasheva / Facebook